Telltale Game’s six-episode, interactive drama Game of Thrones thrusts players into George RR Martin’s wintery epic as portrayed by the HBO Series. Rather than make players into a resilient voice amongst by chaos, Game of Thrones gives players the rare opportunity to directly complicate matters and later suffer the consequences of their decisions. Despite some scripted plot points, I constantly felt responsible for making matters worse and worse as I was suffocated beneath the weight of dire consequences. The spiraling fall of the story consistently kept me on the edge of my seat, feeding me of the taste of triumph without sacrifice piecemeal, until the disappointingly inconclusive Episode 6. While a few janky walking sections dragged on a bit too long, none of the title ever felt like filler. Even choreographed QTE segments, while skill-less, was enjoyable and surprisingly fulfilling. A few graphical blips and uninspired cinematography weren’t enough to break Game of Thrones’ presentation or keep it from feeling authentic to its HBO predecessor.
Players take control of several members of House Forrester, ironwood craftsmen and former bannermen to House Stark. (That probably doesn’t mean much if you’re unfamiliar with the series but don’t fret. Discussing any more details regarding the game’s characters, locations, etc. would spoil a few twists and turns so I won’t.) The story follows the timeline of the HBO series, picking up on a certain ill-fated evening *wink wink* and progressing no further than the series’ episodes to date. Much like the show, GoT is made up of multiple intertwining storylines that come together ever so slowly and painfully, every scene building to the height of tension before suddenly switching to another storyline. The suspense became somewhat maddening in the best possible way during the first five episodes; constant teases kept me anxious and demonstrated developers’ understanding of how to recreate the show’s drama. The series conclusion, however, left me boundlessly unfulfilled, setting up a second season for the series instead of awarding players the satisfaction of an ending or temporary resolution. I admit I did cram my 14-hour playthrough into just a few days but I felt Episode 6 wore me out then let me down like no other.
Gameplay consists of choosing a character’s words or actions during in flow of conversation or battle. A few QTE-action sequences don’t provide any challenge but do show off some great fight choreography and sound design. You can really feel the crunch of a character’s blade as it makes its way through a soldier’s organs and out his back. In fact, I was really surprised by how satisfying most of QTE sections were. While failing most of them resulted in instant failure state, a handful of QTEs played out alternate actions upon failure, wounding the character or prompting an alternate recovery action. I found these to be a great touch but would’ve appreciated even more of them as they often portrayed characters’ realistically scrambling through combat errors with improvised solutions.
The true tension, however, arose during conversation; whereas dying during an action scene would allow players to “retry,” a decision made during conversation could never be undone. Despite a few inevitable plot points, players must guide their characters through a frighteningly flexible story. Most choices are made in the flow of conversation, a countdown indicating the time players have to choose from a small bank of actions and speech. Fail to decide and your character will remain silent and those around you will take note of your hesitation. While characters show resilience through their struggles, their lives feel beautifully fragile. Between countdowns and the harshness of the GoT universe, I never got to take a character for granted with the constant feeling of death looming overhead and begging to cash in.
GoT never holds back. Ever. NPC characters are as cunning and witty as their live-action counterparts and will act against you if you get in their way. I guess I had never empathized with the stress the show’s characters undergo when simply speaking to each other – i.e. imagine having to make decisions for characters on Game of Thrones and King’s Landing quickly begins to feel like the most dangerous place in Westeros. It all becomes even more interesting when you realize that pursuing one ideal might betray someone else’s. Making a promise to someone now may get you out a bind but will come back to bite you later. Everyone around you is trying to get what they want and you’re constantly reminded of it. I very much appreciated that no decisions ever felt “wrong.” Yes, sometimes my decision did result in a less than desirable outcome; however, reminding myself of the intense, tragic drama of the Game of Thrones story – one that can at times feel like pure doom and gloom – made my “poor” choices feel brutally authentic, which was awesome.
Game of Thrones can mostly stand on its own though I did find more than a few moments wherein my limited understanding of the universe stunted my ability to make decisions. For example, I had to learn the gravity of paying my respects to someone or not the hard way and, later, simply guess my way through how a handmaiden “should” behave. The game does its best to let you know who’s in charge but, without question, a better understanding of GoT would bolster better fluency within gameplay. The “codex” provided is extremely limited, only providing information on Forrester House members featured in the game and nothing more. This section would’ve been much more helpful if it had provided elements of the larger GoT story not outlined in-game; a more encyclopedic codex with character and creature profiles or one that explained the world’s essential conflicts would help newcomers further appreciate the game’s context without exiting a Wiki.
The game world is nearly beautiful. Minor details on characters and environments showcase a great deal of care and the game’s watercolor visuals suit the fantasy context well. The game’s “settings” menu is limited, offering only one type of unspecified anti-aliasing and general low, medium, or high graphic settings. Blur effects used in the game tend to “splotch” images in an ugly way, almost like a broken blur effect. Scenes consistently suffer from pop-in with entire environments blinking or characters suddenly appearing into frame. The game’s shadow effects were rather monotone, keeping some characters lit while they wandered into darkness and keeping the the difference between shadows and light slight. While the story focuses on the accumulation of forces, we never really see an army during GoT. More often than not, a group of just eight or nine soldiers is supposed to represent an army to be reckoned with. The dissonance wasn’t overwhelming but mislead my assessment of certain situations. A few surprising typos are to be found throughout the in-game text. While easy to overlook, they were a strange sight given the quality of writing.
Great dialogue is accompanied with brilliant voice-acting, many of the HBO series’ actors portraying themselves. A few recreations of actors weren’t so precise, which is alright by me; however, I would’ve appreciated it if artists had gone ahead and taken some liberties in their design. For example, Tyrion Lannister looks quite spot-on, while Margaery Tyrell shows hints of Natalie Dormer but is a much weaker likeness. The same is true of a few more characters and so I repeatedly shifted my focus to assessing the quality of actor recreations. It was a little distracting if anything. Reimagined, actor-inspired likenesses may have helped the game look more cohesive, as look-alikes sometimes looked strange and out-of-place beside Telltale’s video-gamey original characters. (Yeah, that’s the best term I could come up with.) The characters created by Telltale are just as emotionally complex as the series’ thoroughly flushed out characters thanks to some great voice work and writing. While their decisions were left up to me, each seemed to develop what felt like an inherent personality.
While it could’ve been much worse, a few scenes feature some highly questionable cinematography. I recall an important conversation between two characters playing out in a flat angle when suddenly the camera changed so a barrel could take up a third of the frame. Most scenes, however, employed a bland shot reverse shot technique that, while functional, came off as uninspired camera-work and passed up several moments wherein more dynamic framing methods could have better expressed the story.
Game of Thrones is such a compelling title, I would go so far as to say its production faults are minor. Every step of the way, I wanted nothing more than to see “what happens next,” precisely as Telltale intended. Some knowledge of the series would help appreciate context but all in all there’s a strong enough narrative here to stand on its own. While ultimately Game of Thrones may leave players too exhausted to anticipate Season 2, especially after Episode 6’s up-in-the-air conclusion, the journey is a powerful one and definitely one of the year’s finest.
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